Figure 1: Getty Images/AP. “Gore Vidal, the Author, Playwright, Politician, and Commentator.” The Telegraph “Gore Vidal: best quotes.” 01 Aug 2012.

Gore Vidal, born Eugene Louis Gore Vidal (Oct 3 1925–July 31 2012), was an author, playwright, essayist, and public intellectual, most active and visible in American popular culture in years immediately following WWII through to the early twenty-first century. Always ready to justify his own certitude, Vidal was the consummate public-progressive aristocrat with political aspirations and an epigrammatic wit. His works poignantly express, satirize, and historicize the American experience with a globalist and philosophical understanding.

  • Family & Early Life
    • Family
  •                   • Early Life & Career
  • City and the Pillar
    • Publication and Critical Reception
    • Vidal’s Sexuality
  • Political Arena
    • Candidate Vidal
  • 1968 Debates
  • Late Career
    • Essays and Historical Novels
    • Epitaph and Obituary
  • Further Reading
  • Endnotes

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  1. Family & Early Life

         1.1 Family
Vidal was born into a wealthy family with political ties. His father, Eugene Luther Vidal, worked for the FDR administration, and “was the first instructor in aeronautics at the highly prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point.”[1] His maternal grandfather, Thomas Prior Gore, was an original senator from the newly formed state of Oklahoma, his first appointment running from the states founding year of 1907–1921. He was reelected to a second term in the U.S. senate from 1931–1937.[2] Vidal himself traces his lineage to the Gores, one of the original nineteen colonial families in the District of Columbia, who all became wealthy once the newly formed U.S. government bought and divided up the land for official capital use.[3]
Vidal had a tumultuous relationship with his mother, Nina Gore. Vidal describes her as an evil sprit and alcoholic who he never much identified with.[4] His parents divorced in 1935. His mother remarried Hugh Dudley Auchincloss, Jr., who would later go on to marry Janet Bouvier, mother to first lady Jackie Kennedy. Vidal used his loose connection to the Kennedy’s, through a series of marriages, for social and political clout—strengthening and championing his own political rhetoric and authority nationally.[5]

1.2 Early Life & Career
Vidal emulated his father and maternal grandfather, so much that his father, an aviator, taught Vidal to fly at age ten.[6] Vidal later was enrolled in military academies; in 1943 after graduating, he enlisted in the U.S. army.[7] In 1945 at 19 years old, he was “stationed at Chernowski Bay on Umnak Island, part of the Aleutian chain of islands that stretch from Alaska to Russia.”[8] While stationed there, he wrote the beginnings to his first novel Williwaw, and published the debut novel about his military experiences in 1946, introducing him to the American public as a young war-novelist.[9]

  1. The City & The Pillar

         2.1 Publication and Critical Reception

            Vidal’s third novel, The City and The Pillar (1948) featured a bitter theme throughout his life and work, the acceptance of his own sexuality and the fixation on the death of his self-described first and only love, Jimmie Trimble. A star athlete in grade school when they met at age fourteen, Vidal held a lifelong infatuation with Trimble, who stationed in Iwo Jima in June 1945, died at age 20.[10] Dedicating his third novel to “J.T.,” Vidal penned the first openly explicitly gay novel in American literature. Vidal would face backlash for this publication, finding it difficult to publish his next set of novels in mainstream presses.[11] This panning in the press sent Vidal, in the McCarthy-era of America, to Hollywood where he wrote for film and television. He would continue to try to get published in mainstream presses using pseudonyms such as Edgar Box and Cameron Kay.[12]

2.2 Vidal’s Sexuality
Vidal, noting the importance of both men publically producing work on human sexuality at the same time, collaborated with Dr. Alfred Kinsey on his groundbreaking 1948 study Sexual Behavior In The Human Male.[13] Vidal would assert his entire life that hetero-/homo- sexual distinctions are not “normal or abnormal” but occur in nature and thus are both naturally occurring. In 1950, Vidal met Howard Auder, later changing his last name to Austen, and the two became life-long companions for fifty-three years, which Vidal claims was an entirely platonic, but intimate friendship. Vidal claimed he was, if any label should be applied, a bisexual or pansexual, though most of his sexual exploits feature stories with male partners, including a tryst with Jack Kerouac.[14]

  1. Political Celebrity & Historicist

            3.1 Candidate Vidal

         Vidal ran for Congress in 1960 as a progressive Democrat in New York’s traditional Republican twenty-ninth district. Vidal advocated for shrinking military spending, increasing public education, and recognizing the emergent Communist China officially.[15] His campaign phrase was “You’ll Get More With Gore.” He was defeated, though the race was close in the traditionally conservative district. Vidal later ran for Senate in California in 1982 as a Democrat against Jerry Brown, placing second out of nine candidates.[16]
3.2 1968 Debates & Public conflicts
At the Republican and Democratic national conventions respectfully; ABC News televised debates between conservative William F. Buckley and progressive Gore Vidal, forming the model for what cable news programs would later become.[17] In the sparring debate regarding the Vietnam war on Aug 28 1968, Gore infamously called Buckley a “Crypto-Nazi” and Buckley called Gore a “Queer” and threatened to knock him out,[18] beginning a ratings bonanza for ABC news. Vidal would have similar public confrontations with celebrities, literati, and other intellectuals throughout his career, such as Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, and Anaïs Nin.[19]

  1. Late Career
    4.1 Essays & Historical Novels
    Vidal would go on to pen a series of historical novels about Rome and the founding of the American Republic, as well as becoming a regular essayist primarily about the American condition. Vidal is unafraid to be controversial and investigate beneath media controversies and public opinion, and does it with wit and an authority he was even praised for by his most hardline detractors. In a penned essay about the Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh’s execution in 2001, Vidal philosophizes about the tactics and methods of the U.S. state against the rights of private citizens.[20]
    4.2 Epitaph and Obituary
    After living for decades between Italy and the U.S. bi-annually, Vidal later in life moved back to California permanently to be close to Cedars-Sinai hospital. His long time companion of fifty-three years, Howard Austen died in 2003 from cancer.[21] They had twenty-five years together. Vidal in his waning years worked on his first Memoir Palimpsest (1995) and then his second, Point-to-Point Navigation (2006), while collaborating on many documentaries and was a consummate interviewee. In a final interview, asked if he feared death, Vidal claims that there would be nothing in death, because “when you’re born, that’s it.”[22]

Further Reading

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[1] Vidal, Gore. Interview by Robert Chalmers. “Gore Vidal: Feuds, ‘vicious’ mother and rumours of a secret love child.” The Independent. 24 May 2008.

[2] Wikipedia contributors. “List of United States Senators from Oklahoma.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 Sep. 2017. Web. 21 Oct 2017.

[3] Vidal, Gore. “The Ruins of Washington.” The New York Review of Books. 29 Apr 1982.

[4] Chalmers. “Feuds, ‘vicious’ mother and rumours,” op. cit.

[5] Chalmers. “Feuds, ‘vicious’ mother and rumours,” ibid.

[6] Kloman, Harry. “In a biography of his life, Gore Vidal is a more sympathetic figure than in his own memoir.” Gore Vidal: A Biography, by Fred Kaplan. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 14 Nov 1999.

[7] Vidal, Gore. “Gore Vidal’s Perfect Storm.” The Guardian. 21 Nov 2003.

[8] Vidal. “Perfect Storm.” ibid.

[9] Vidal. “Perfect Storm.” ibid.

[10] Chalmers. “Feuds, ‘vicious’ mother and rumours,” op. cit.

[11] Terry, C.V. The City and The Pillar by Gore Vidal. The New York Times. 11 Jan 1948.

[12] Parini, Jay. “The Education of Gore Vidal: About Gore Vidal.” American Masters, PBS. 21 Jul 2003.

[13] Chalmers. “Feuds, ‘vicious’ mother and rumours,” op. cit.

[14] Teeman, Tim. In Bed With Gore Vidal: hustlers, Hollywood, and The Private World of an American Master. Magnus Books, 2013; Persky, Stan. “Dirty Laundry.” In Bed with Gore Vidal: Hustlers, Hollywood, and the Private World of an American Master, by Tim Teeman. The Los Angeles Review of Books, 02 Sep 2013.

[15] Parini. “The Education of Gore Vidal.” op. cit.

[16] Tahourdin, Adrian. “’You’ll get more with Gore.’” The Times Literary Supplement, 21 Feb 2014.

[17] Best of Enemies. Directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville. Magnolia Pictures Participant Media, 2015.

[18]William Buckley Vs Gore Vidal YouTube, uploaded by Lida Liberopoulou, Aug 15 2007.

[19] Chilton, Martin. “Gore Vidal and his bitter feuds.” The Telegraph. 6 Apr 2016.

[20] Vidal, Gore. “The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh.” Vanity Fair. Sep 2001.

[21] Chalmers. “Feuds, ‘vicious’ mother and rumours,” op. cit.

[22] Chalmers. “Feuds, ‘vicious’ mother and rumours,” ibid.

 

— NW

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